Sunday, December 17, 2017
St. Louis Bosnians

Take a tour of St. Louis’ Little Bosnia

And just like fans in bars all over St. Louis, the patrons at Taft Street Restaurant & Bar erupt and high-five. But unless you speak Bosnian, the only part of the cheering that you’ll understand is “David Freese.”

LITTLE BOSNIA

A selection of other food-related spots:

Bolero Cafe, 4718 Gravois Avenue, 314-353-3620: Cevapi, doner kebabs and other inexpensive Bosnian specialties, plus coffee and sweet cakes.

Caffe Milano, 5045 Gravois Avenue, 314-832-1337: Modular red-and-black furniture under old pressed-tin ceilings make for an unusual atmosphere. Desserts featured on the windows, but the dessert case was empty when we visited.

Europa Market, 5005 Gravois Avenue, 314-481-9880: If you happen to find any foodstuffs in the restaurants or cafes that you’d like to reproduce at home, this place is neatly and well stocked with packaged, preserved and frozen foods from Bosnia and nearby countries.

Vivid Cafe, 5017 Gravois Avenue, 314-835-7573,vividcafestl.com: Coffee by day, lounge and hookah bar by night. Pulsing Eurobeats, audacious interior and exterior, and an attitude as reflected by its website: “St. Louis is said to be home to the second largest Bosnian population of any city outside Sarajevo, and it’s not often you get to feel like an interloper in your own city — so the exoticism of the Vivid Cafe should come as a welcome experience. The place is clean, dim and loungey, with fire-engine red club chairs and a sleek bar stocked with top-shelf liquor and plenty of ashtrays for the notoriously nicotine happy crowd.”

Zlatno Zito, 4573 Gravois Avenue, 314-752-3004: Side-by-side storefronts housing a bakery and small-scale grocer in one half and a sit-down space for inexpensive Bosnian-deli dining on the other.

Taft Street Restaurant — which is actually on Taft Avenue — faces Gravois Avenue at the northeastern end of an about-12-block strip centered on the Bevo Mill. Drive or walk up and down this part of Gravois from early morning to late night, and you’ll see many of the thousands of Bosnians who took refuge here when war destroyed their country two decades ago.

It’s as close to a scene from a European city as you’ll find anywhere in St. Louis.

In cafes, bars and restaurants, patrons sip coffee from demitasse cups or drink imported soft drinks through straws, or nibble on sweet cakes, or dine leisurely on platters of meat and sausage with endless loaves of various fluffy breads. Invariably, one or more of the tables in each establishment will be occupied by several generations of the same family, with the younger people effortlessly going back and forth between Bosnian and idiomatic English. ➽

Taft Street’s identity is quietly Bosnian. There’s nothing in its signage to suggest its ethnicity, and indeed, the only blatantly Bosnian item on its printed menu is something called “Bosnian pastries,” which in fact turns out to be Bosnian pasta, triangle-shape ravioli stuffed with meat in a tomato cream sauce.

The bulk of the printed menu could best be described as “continental,” with influences from Italy, Switzerland and other European countries, but the off-the-menu specials include the staples found at every cafe and restaurant up and down Gravois: cevapi (cheh-VAH-pee), small beef link sausages, usually spiced very simply with salt, pepper and garlic and then served on a flat, round bread with a crust and texture similar to an oversize English muffin; pljeskavica (pul-yes-ka-VEE-cha), similarly spiced ground beef formed into a patty (and often cited as a “Bosnian hamburger”); and mjesano meso (myeh-SAH-no MEH-so), the mixed meat platter that includes cevapi, pljeskavica and other grilled meats. Here, it’s a moist piece of chicken breast and a well-done, thoroughly salted and peppered, thin slice of rib-eye steak.

A few blocks toward the Bevo from Taft Street Restaurant is Bosna Gold, probably the oldest continuously operating Bosnian restaurant on the strip. Bosna Gold reflects the struggles and triumphs of the Bosnian community in St. Louis: Originally across the street in the space that now houses Hollywood restaurant, it eventually prospered enough to risk moving into a much larger, smartly rehabbed former Pizza Hut across the street.

The menu at Bosna Gold is lengthy, with the Bosnian staples supplemented by sausages in a variety of preparations, such as in bean soup; stuffed squid; and cross-cultural hybrids like mac ’n’ cheese made with feta. As with several other local Bosnian restaurants, it also features sarma, a compact version of stuffed cabbage, as well as stuffed peppers.

Directly across from

the Bevo Mill is Stari Grad, a well-worn old bar space with only about a dozen tables and mismatched red and green carpeting. A single employee greets you and takes your order — perhaps a grilled veal sandwich on that same oversize-muffinlike bread, served simply with raw onion — and then disappears into the kitchen to prepare it. Instead of a cash register, she reaches for an old check box to make change at the end of the meal.

The crown jewel of restaurants in this Little Bosnia neighborhood, however, is Grbic, a few blocks away from the Gravois strip, at the corner of Keokuk and Meramec streets, amid the vaulted brick ceilings of the former Bailey Farm Dairy. Bosnian entrees intermingle with schnitzels, ragùs and other European specialties, with everything from sterling coffee services to murals to an entire reproduction of a room in a Bosnian cottage providing atmosphere. Prices reflect the more upscale atmosphere: the mixed-grill plate here is $22, including two chicken preparations and a veal cutlet.

Grbic also offers diners the opportunity to sample out-of-the-ordinary wines from Bosnia and surrounding countries. Citluk winery’s vranak, for example, is a red wine that comes from the Mostar region in Bosnia and Herzegovina and resembles some of the lighter incarnations of California zinfandel.

When asked to suggest a typical Bosnian beer, a waiter at Taft Street Restaurant noted that its selection had recently added Lasko —specifically Lasko Club Export — which turned out to be Slovenian. Light gold and with medium body, it had just a hint of sweetness to balance its moderate bitterness and worked well with the salty nature of Bosnian specialties.

And for late-night sipping, Bosna Gold has $4 double shots of fruit-flavored clear brandies called Divna, which are milder than most versions of their French eaux de vie counterparts but still pack significant punch.

If you simply ask for a coffee, whether in one of the restaurants or in the storefronts alternately calling themselves cafes or caffes, you’re most likely to get a European-style espresso from a machine (almost invariably served in a Lavazza-branded cup). The Bosnian choice, however, is boiled pulverized coffee served in a long-handled dispenser, similar to the style favored by, among others, Greeks, Turks and Russians.

Reflecting the migration of some of the initial Bosnian refugees to south St. Louis County, one of the original Bosnian restaurants in Little Bosnia, Berix, closed its Gravois location and opened at Reavis Barracks and Lemay Ferry roads (2201 Lemay Ferry Road; 314-845-3711, berixcoffee.com). It’s a counter-service place, with backlit photos of the various menu items. Here you’ll find another cross-cultural specialty, the doner kebab, similar to a gyros but served on a fluffier flat bread.

For a quick snack, grab a sirnica, farmers cheese cooked into a layered pastry. For sweets, Berix has a display case full of the fruit-and-cream layered or filled cakes favored by Bosnians both for desserts and for midday snacks.

 


Where Berix, 2201 Lemay Ferry Road •  314-845-3711; berixcoffee.com

Where Bosna Gold, 4601 Gravois Avenue •  314-351-2058

Where Grbic, 4071 Keokuk Street •  314-772-3100; grbicrestaurant.com

Where Stari Grad, 4738 Gravois Avenue •  314-353-6572

Where Taft Street Restaurant & Bar, 4457 Gravois Avenue •  314-457-1428

SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch

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About The Author

stlbosnians

The St. Louis Bosnian is an online database of Bosnian community in St. Louis. The purpose is to document and preserve existence of the Bosnian immigrant community in metropolitan St. Louis area. Through published books, articles, interviews, researches, videos, photos as well as speaker series, seminars, workshops and educational classes. We hope to leave the legacy of our community to the future generations.

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